Get Writing: A Guide for Getting Into the Habit of Journaling


By now, most of us have heard about the benefits of keeping a journal. If you’re seeing a doctor about anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue, you’ve probably been advised to start writing down your thoughts. Or maybe you’re just really looking for a reason to buy an awesome notebook or use that really cool new pen you have. Whatever your reasons, you’ve been thinking about doing this for a while now, but you just don’t know how to get started.

Before I started journaling regularly, I would always get hung up on the idea that I didn’t really have anything to say, and I worried all of my entries would be boring. This would sort of shut down the journaling process before it even began. There are plenty of other obstacles that stop us, too: you don’t have enough time to journal regularly, you can’t write for long without your hand cramping, etc.

Luckily, I am here to tell you that there are about a million different ways to journal, and chances are one of them is going to work for you.

Why should I keep a journal?

The health benefits of journaling are talked about extensively, and because it’s been said before (very well), I refer you to this article that came before me, if you want to know about documented health benefits. If that’s not enough, here are some other reasons people start recording their thoughts:

1. You want to keep track of your good ideas, thoughts, and inspirations.

Whether it’s for work or a hobby, you want a place to write down all your great ideas. For this, I suggest a travel-friendly notebook that you can keep in a purse or pocket, so that you’re always ready when inspiration strikes. There’s not much pressure with a journal like this, as you’re free (and encouraged) to scribble down incomplete ideas and maybe even just cool words. To make it even more fun, paste things into your journal that you find particularly interesting (a quote or a clipping from a magazine, for instance).

2. You want to work out troubling thoughts and track your moods (or even meals):

A journal can be a great way to vent about something that’s bothering you when there’s no one to vent to. It’s also really useful for recording upsetting or obsessive thoughts and (ir)rational fears. Sometimes the best way to deal with something that’s bothering you is to write it out, understand why it’s causing you a problem, and then break it down into manageable pieces. You might also want to simply record how you feel every day to see if you can find a pattern in your moods. Doctors sometimes suggest recording meals, too, just in case you’re eating something that’s negatively affecting your mood.

3. Literally any other reason you can think of:

You don’t NEED a well thought out, scientifically-supported reason for journaling. Maybe you do it because it’s fun, or it keeps you busy when you might otherwise be feeling nervous or sad, or it just helps you keep track of what you’ve been up to. The great thing about journaling is that there are as many or as few rules as you like, depending on what works for you.

How should I journal?

This seems like a pretty silly question, because journaling immediately calls to mind the image of someone sitting at their desk, scribbling away in a notebook. There are actually innumerable ways to journal, though, and here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. The Tried-and-True Notebook Method:

So you’re a traditionalist. I can understand. Few things make me more excited than buying a fancy new notebook. As common as this method is, it isn’t boring. You can decorate your notebook any way you like, or even make your own. The internet is a great place to find unique notebooks.

2. The Blogger:

This method isn’t for everyone, because journaling can be a very personal experience, and not everyone wants to share it with the internet. Sometimes sharing your thoughts with people can really help, though, and in that case, setting up a personal blog or a twitter account (for micro-blogging) can be really useful. It gives you the opportunity to work out your own thoughts AND connect with other people going through similar issues. If you’re really brave, make a Youtube channel and try vlogging.

3. Tech Savvy Journaling:

We don’t all like to write things out on paper OR share our thoughts with the world. Luckily, there are plenty of other options. If you want to journal on a mobile device – yes, here it comes – there’s an app for that. More than one. Hundreds. If you prefer your computer, there’s plenty of journaling software, but I’m going to recommend my personal favourite: iDailyDiary. It’s free and really easy to use, organizing your journal entries by the day you add them and also allowing you to search all of your entries for keywords. It’s password-protected and becomes invisible when minimized, making it perfect for those of us who like our privacy.

4. _____-A-Day Journaling:

Some people don’t really want to write at all, and for you, I suggest the ____-A-Day Journaling method. Take a photo every day, either of yourself or something neat that you see. If you’re more artistically-inclined, a sketch-a-day journal/sketchbook can help you keep your skills sharp AND allow you to record your feelings in a very unique, abstract way.

Go forth and journal:

Like I said, there are millions of ways to journal. You can journal every day or just when you feel like it. You can completely throw away anything I’ve suggested here and make your own rules – a Rainy Day Journal, or a journal from the perspective of someone that’s NOT you (maybe a character from that novel you’re working on). You have all the power here! If you’re still feeling stuck, here are a few prompts to get you started….

– If you’re feeling really bad, stop and focus on exactly how you feel. Write it down. Take all senses into account. Be alone with your feelings and break them down into something you can write about.

– Describe 3 good/surprising/unexpected/inspiring/etc. things that happened to you today.

– Describe or draw the people you see around you when you’re out in public.

– Eavesdrop a little bit on the subway and write down the conversation.

– Write some letters you never intend to send. (E.g. “Dear Really Annoying Person on the Bus,” “Dear Ex Who Broke Up with Me Through a Text,” “Dear Amazing Celebrity Who I Love and Admire”)

Got cool journal ideas? Please share in the comments!

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons. [x]

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